Why You Should Take IB Classes in High School Instead of AP

Are you considering IB classes in high school? Here are some of the benefits and challenges of this advanced curriculum.

Are you considering IB classes in high school? This student thinks the IB is better for college prep than AP. (OH SNAP.) Here are some of the benefits and challenges of this advanced curriculum.

Schools around the world offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), a rigorous two-year program specifically designed to train the scholars of the future. Many US high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses too, for students who are looking for a challenge and interested in getting a leg up in their college preparation. If you have both available to you in high school, which should you choose? Allow me to make an argument in favor of the IB Diploma…

I graduated with an IB Diploma in the spring of 2013. Completing the program was one of the greatest challenges of my life, but it was more than worth the struggle, sweat, and tears. I also had dozens of friends taking AP classes—and based on their experience I swear by the International Baccalaureate program with all of my heart.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time debating whether the AP or IB program is superior with my peers, and I’ve boiled it down to the following four key points that I think best exemplify why the IB program does a superior job preparing students for the world.

Courses and exam difficulty

In terms of difficulty, AP and IB classes aren’t that different. The main difference is that while in AP you can more or less choose which topics (e.g., math, language, history) you want to take. In the IB Program, all of your core classes are advanced.

Granted, you still have a decent amount of choice regarding the difficulty of your IB math classes, your electives, and which science specialties you’ll take. But that’s about it. You don’t get the luxury of taking advanced English and regular Spanish and History. In IB you take advanced everything. (In fact, you might even be able to take extra-advanced classes, known as higher level, or “HL,” classes as opposed to standard level, or “SL,” classes.)

There are also components of the IB program you won’t find in AP. For one, the International Baccalaureate includes a mandatory two-semester philosophy class—infamous among IB students—known as Theory of Knowledge (TOK). Students must also complete a public service project in order to receive their diploma, known as the Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) project, as well as an Extended Essay (EE) about a topic of their choice.

While AP students worry primarily about their final exams, IB students have to think about exams, multiple papers, internal assessments, CAS, and their EE (but not TOK), all of which are sent to Switzerland for grading. This is in addition to all the other high school chaos!

In terms of high school difficulty, the IB is not for the faint of heart, to be sure. But you survive it. And, at least for me, nothing has been quite as difficult since—not even getting a degree in astrophysics. Now I know what I’m truly capable of. Thanks, IB!

College credit

One of the primary reasons high school students take advanced classes is to get college credit, which can potentially save you time and money in the long run.

What I wish I had known in high school was exactly how high school classes translated to college credit. Now I know the reason no one told us: it’s because it actually depends on a large number of factors. Specifically, two main factors decide the number of credits you’ll receive for your AP or IB course work: how well you do on the standardized exams at the end of your classes and what you choose to study in college.

But even your exam scores aren’t really that important for determining how much credit you’ll get. I’ll give you an example. I have a friend who took advanced classes and tests with me in high school. We went to the same college, but he majored in business, while I majored in astrophysics. Truth be told, I actually did a little better than him on the tests—but he got about 48 college credits and I got 29. I still got nearly a year’s worth of college credit, and I’m certainly grateful for all the time and money I saved, but ultimately my scores (and stress) didn’t matter as much as I thought they did. What really matters is where you go to college and what you want to study.

The bottom line: don’t take advanced classes if all you want are college credits, because there’s no real way to determine how many you’ll get. Will you get credits? Probably. But the exact number depends on factors you have no way of knowing when you’re in high school. Instead, try not to worry about college credits; just do your very best and trust that your hard work will be worth it. After all, the credit you get for the few short years you spend in college is only a small part of how being an IB student can enhance your life.


One motif of suffering is that you grow closer to the people who suffer with you. In an International Baccalaureate program, you wind up taking many of the same classes with the same people. As a result, you build a strong sense of community and camaraderie with your fellow IB students.

Due to how rigorous the program is, you really do feel part of a close-knit, exclusive family. Not to mention there are tons of inside jokes and memes about IB—which you get to share with students around the world!

After high school, you are also an IB graduate, which means you retain the benefits of being part of this community throughout your life. This includes social events, meetings, and talking about how painful high school was with strangers…. But beyond just having something in common, there’s a certain shared pride in surviving such difficult high school course work. And that eases the pain, if only a bit.

Life skills

The very first time you apply for a job in high school is basically the worst. You have zero prior experience, but many times the only way to gain experience is to get a job! What is a poor high school student to do? Being an IB student can help.

As an IB student, you end up slightly more qualified than many of your high school peers, because the program places so many more demands on you. After my first job interview in a government office, I was told specifically that one of the primary reasons I was chosen for the position over dozens of other applicants was the fact that my nearly blank résumé had the letters “IB” on it.

Now, as a college graduate, I understand how difficult it is to comprehend life beyond college while you’re still stuck in high school. During that time, I could barely fathom my “adult” life at all. But this is only the beginning of your journey. And I can’t express enough how valuable my IB diploma has been for all the sleepless nights, exams, papers, and time-management skills I gained to earn it.

Finally, at its core, IB really is a program that teaches you to have a global mindset. The best quote I’ve come across about the IB program was one I heard my junior year at an IB assembly: “You can either work hard now or work hard later.” The quote was specifically about high school and college, referring to how our hard work in high school would make college drastically easier (which it did).

But I think this really goes to the core of the human experience. The harder you work when you’re young, the easier the rest of your entire life is going to be. Those four years of trauma are a small price to pay for the years of success you’ll have in the future.

I wish the best of luck to you, young IB scholar!

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About Ariel Manzanares-Scisney

Ariel Manzanares-Scisney

Ariel (pronounced "R-E-L") is a young astrophysicist, philosopher, martial artist, native Earthling, and a professional conglomerate of stardust. His entire life has been dedicated to education and the pursuit of knowledge. In his youth he trained for a decade in Taekwondo, teaching self-defense to students aged three to adult, becoming a fully certified instructor and national judge by age 18. Simultaneously, he learned about the world through the International Baccalaureate program, studying all academic disciplines in an advanced global context. After high school he took his global perspective and expanded it into a cosmic one. In college he earned his bachelor's degree in astrophysics and philosophy over the course of three years while serving as a public speaker, space navigator, and laserist at the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado. He hopes that his experience can be useful for educating curious minds of all ages!


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